*In an earlier version of the article we had erroneously mentioned that Mynation was not able to contact the LRO. The error has been corrected.
In a first, the Jharkhand government has taken stringent action against a shady Church land deal. This follows a MyNation expose which highlighted how norms were blatantly violated in the concerned deal. A massive land scam by the Simdega Catholic Diocesan Educational Society involving tribal land in Simdega district of Jharkhand was discovered. The government has now cancelled all land deals which were a part of this scam. It has also decided to take over the structures which have been built on the disputed piece of land. This action is keeping in line with the various frauds and scams committed by missionary organisations in Jharkhand which were uncovered in the past few months.
MyNation first broke a story on this shady land deal on September 21. It then brought to light how a Catholic educational society purchased 20 acres of tribal land illegally which was in blatant violation of several rules in the Simdega district. The society had allegedly violated government norms using FCRA money and also encroached upon government land as a part of the land deals. A complaint was lodged with the Deputy Commissioner of Simdega district into the shady land deals involving the Catholic organisation. The administration refused to divulge the name of the complainant. Later on, it came to light that the complaint was made by rights activist Vinay Joshi, who also runs the rights body Legal Rights Observatory (LRO).
The complaint into the land deal alleged that provisions of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) were violated by the Catholic organisation. It was contended that the society purchased non-transferable land in the name of 27 church fathers who were associated with the society. This land was purchased at a price way below the circle rates, thereby causing significant loss of revenue to the Jharkhand government. Another issue with the land deals was that section 40 of the CNT Act prohibits land deal registration in the name of hospitals, trust, society, school, colleges in Jharkhand. In the case at hand, land was divided into several parts and then purchased in the name of 27 church priests. However, the Simdega Bishop House has now been erected on the concerned plot of land. Thus, even though the land is registered in the name of the 27 men from the church, in reality the society holds the possession and exercises rights over it. Moreover, there is no document suggesting that the land was donated to the society.
The deal is also vitiated due to the reason that section 46 of the CNT Act requires both the purchase and seller of land to reside in the area falling under the same police station. However, in the present case, all but 2 of the fathers reside outside the jurisdiction of the police station in which the land was purchased. As per MyNation the transaction was also completed in a hurried manner. Apart from 2 fathers, none of them have signed the land registries on their own. And all the registries were completed within 2 days.
There were also some concerns about the source of income of the 27 church fathers for the purchase of the said land. Moreover, it is also beyond comprehension as to why the society was holding the land in question and why it was not in possession of the church fathers in whose name the tribal land was purchased. By exclusively breaking this story, MyNation exposed the possibility of a nexus between the Christian clerics and the revenue officials who ignored the interest of state land revenue by avoiding payment of court fees and proper revenue stamp duty.
MyNation deserves all the praise in the world for its responsible journalism and for bringing to light the way the Catholic society brought tribal land under its possession in highly suspicious circumstances. The Jharkhand government has set a bold and impressive precedent for other states to follow. It must be taken up as a benchmark by other states, especially those having greater proportion of tribal land, as such type of land is always vulnerable. It has shown that no one can illegally occupy and possess land or property in the garb of religion in Jharkhand.